From Persecutor to Preacher

Acts 9.19.b-31

Saul goes from being a persecutor to a preacher. Jesus has changed everything. He has passed from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the beloved Son…his sins have been forgiven and his destiny will never be the same. Good news, right? Right?

And yet for Saul the good news is met with disdain by his one-time-friends turned enemies and doubt by his one-time-enemies turned friends. Except for Barnabas. He recognizes Saul’s sincere belief and welcomes him into the fold.

Saul is excited about his new-found faith. He can’t wait to tell others about Jesus. That’s a good thing. His excitement is not quenched even when met with hostility and the threat of death. Still he will preach the gospel and face whatever trial may come. Saul’s time alone with the Lord…in His Word and in prayer…fuels his fire and prepares him for what inevitably will come.

Are you like Saul, maybe new to the faith, excited about the road ahead, anticipating the impact that you will have for the kingdom? Realize that challenges will come. Some of those challenges will come from unbelieving friends who feel like you’ve walked away from them. Some of those challenges will come from other believers who can’t believe you trusted in Jesus. Take courage. Either way, you have to be faithful to what God has called you to do…tell people about Jesus…share your story. Spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer and time fellowshipping with other believers, allowing your faith to grow and deepen and mature. And be patient. Saul’s greatest impact will come years later…

Are you like Barnabas, an encourager who comes alongside, a welcomer-in of those on the fringes? Some definitely have the gift of encouragement…you know who you are and so do the folks who know you well. Keep doing it. We need you. But I think all of us can be a Barnabas to an extent. All of us can come alongside another. You see, discipleship is not just me, my Bible and a cup of coffee. There is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. God never intended us to walk the path alone. We need each other. Paul uses both the analogy of a body and of a house to describe our interconnectedness…our interdependence on one another. The person you may be encouraging may be the one God wants to use to turn this world upside down. Like Saul.

Maybe you haven’t yet had an encounter with Jesus. Maybe you think you are too far gone to be saved. You’re not. Saul wasn’t. Neither are you. God wants to work a miracle in your life…to bring you from death to life, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son…to give your life purpose and meaning and to use you to impact the lives of those around you for His kingdom. It’s as simple as believing that you are a sinner who needs to be saved and Jesus came to do just that…He lived a perfect life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised the third day, conquering both sin and death, so that those who believe in Him could have forgiveness of sins and life forever with Him in His kingdom.

For the rest of us, who do you need to share your story with this week? Who is it that God wants to uniquely use you to reach? What impact will you have on the kingdom?

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The Gift of Giving

1 Chronicles 29.1-20

Giving is easily overlooked as a spiritual discipline. You have heard me say often…pray every day, spend time in the Word every day, and fellowship with other believers as often as you can, but giving is another one of those disciplines that’s at the core of what it means to follow Jesus. I don’t know how we can express love…for God or for our neighbor…without giving. Giving of our time. Giving of our abilities. Giving of our resources. Giving of ourselves. Giving reflects the love that God so generously has shown toward us in Jesus.

When I was growing up, giving was not a practice my parents modeled. With eight kids…money was always tight. So giving wasn’t something I was used to…and putting myself through college, I never had two nickels to rub together as my dad would say. I didn’t think I could afford to give. So it wasn’t until I met my wife Wendy that I even considered giving as a spiritual discipline. And even then, I wasn’t sure how the giving thing would work out. But we did it anyway, and we haven’t looked back since.

If giving is new to you, I know what it feels like to look at your finances and wonder, “how?” Let me just challenge you to try it. Pick an amount and begin to give regularly. Set a goal…maybe ten percent, and build those giving muscles until you reach it. Taste and see that the LORD is good. When we’ve given, God’s always been faithful to meet our needs. But a word of caution…it’s not just something to do to check a box or somehow promote yourself. God cares about our hearts when we give…what’s our motivation? Is it to please Him? Is it to further His kingdom work? Make sure He has you first…all of you. Then the right motivation and the want-to for giving will be there.

Everything that we have comes from God. We are merely stewards of what He’s entrusted to us. Whether He’s entrusted us with little like the widow or much like King David, it’s all His. We have to keep that in mind. Sometime it’s harder to give when you have more…our stuff tends to capture our hearts and cause us to want more. Many times it’s those who have the least who give the most…who are the most generous. The amount may not be as much, but the sacrifice is greater and the joy of giving more abundant.

For some of us, giving is a discipline that we’ve practiced for awhile. Somewhere along your spiritual journey, someone challenged you to make giving a regular practice, and so you’ve done it for years. Thank you for your faithfulness. My question for you is…is giving a duty or a delight? Have you passed from giving to giving generously?

This is one area that I wanted to challenge myself in this year, so I came up with a simple plan that you are free to steal. Whenever I’m in line, I will offer to pay for the person behind me. Not every time, but every time the Spirit brings it to mind. It creates the opportunity for some great conversation, and it’s helping me stretch from giving to giving generously.

Giving isn’t just a resource thing…one of the most valuable commodities we have is time. It may also be the thing we are least likely to give up. So maybe exercising your giving muscles with your time looks like making “yes” your default answer instead of “no”. Seeing interruptions as opportunities to minister instead of distractions to be avoided.

So why not give giving a try, and you too can experience what a gift it really is.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Central Summer Series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Stephen Takes a Stand

Acts 7

Stephen takes the stand, answering the charges brought against him by his opponents. It’s not Stephen who stands in the wrong…far from speaking against Moses, God, the Temple or the Law…he speaks against those who rebel against God and make an idol out of the Temple or the Law.

Stephen had no way of knowing that the people would react so violently to what he had to say. But even if he did, he wouldn’t have changed a word. Stephen was a faithful witness to the end and had the awesome privilege of being the first martyr of the church…the first to die for Jesus. Many more will follow. The boldness that the Apostles prayed for is definitely present in the life of Stephen.

I wonder if we would be so bold. The likelihood of being called to martyrdom is still pretty low in this country although in other parts of the world it’s relatively high. But I wonder if we would be bold enough to share our testimony even when it’s unpopular…when it might be seen as politically incorrect or even labelled “hate speech” because we proclaim the truth that Jesus is the only way. I wonder if we would be so bold to face ridicule and maybe even physical harm for the sake of the Name. I wonder.

I pray that we would be that bold. I pray that we would be bold in the way that we live our lives for Jesus. I pray that we would be bold in the way that we love one another and those who oppose us. I pray that we would be bold in our words and in our actions. I pray that we would be a bold people, courageously following our King, storming the gates of hell and releasing the captives. I pray that we could never be accused of being a stiff-necked people, uncircumcised of heart and ear, but that we would be a people who do justice, live kindness and walk humbly with our God. May we be such a people.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Stephen’s Arrest

Acts 6.8-15

Stephen returns to his old neighborhood to share the good news of hope that he has found in Jesus. He wants the folks closest to him to experience the same life-transformation he has. Jesus changes everything. And although the Spirit is powerfully at work through him performing great wonders and signs to confirm his testimony, what should be received as good news indeed is met with hostility.

Welcome to the dangerous world of living for Jesus. The more brightly your light shines, the more energetically the enemy will attempt to put it out. So how then should we live? In fear, shrinking back? No. Courageously storming the gates of hell. Stephen didn’t back down. Neither did the Apostles. They knew they were serving a King and a kingdom worth dying for. So do we. But not only is our King worth dying for, He’s also worth living for.

Are you living for your King? Yeah, you are. But are you living for the true King…are you living for Jesus? Or are you living for a pretender? Where do your allegiances lie? Who/what are you serving? Who do you adore? You see, unless you love God more…more than anyone else or anything else…you won’t live for Him. And if you won’t live for Him, you certainly won’t die for Him.

So if you want to live for your King…if you want to love Him more…you have to be intentional about your pursuit of Him. You have to cultivate your love…time spent with Him will do that. Time in His Word…time in prayer…time with His people. Time in His Word…every day. Time in prayer…every day. Time with His people…as often as you can. And remember it’s not something that you can do on your own…but He has given you His Spirit to strengthen and encourage you, to lead and to guide you, to transform you to live and love like Jesus.

If today were your last day, would you be ready? Jesus will either be your King or your Judge? When your time comes, there are no do-overs, no second chances…the question is not whether or not we will die, or when or how we will die, but if we are ready to die. Are you ready?

A little over a hundred years before Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on the door of the church in Wittenburg, John Huss was preaching key reformation ideals. He would be martyred for his devotion to the Bible over the traditions of the church. Just moments before his death, he was asked by the imperial marshal one final time to recant and save his life. John responded “God is my witness that…the principal intention of my preaching…and all my other acts or writings are solely that I might turn people from sin. And in that truth of the gospel that I wrote, taught, and preached in accordance with the sayings and expositions of the holy doctors, I am willingly glad to die today.”

It’s better to burn out than fade away…

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Seven Chosen to Serve

Acts 6.1-7

The Apostles turn a potentially divisive problem into a ministry solution and increase their reach by raising up leaders within the church.

Jesus prayed for the unity of the church on that last evening in the upper room with His disciples (John 17.20-21). He said that all the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another (John 13.35). Too often, I’m afraid, it’s not our unity and love we’re known for. Too often the prejudices and divisiveness, the selfishness and self-serving attitude of the outside world infects the church. We are too easily offended and too quick to assume the worst in others. Grumbling and complaining is our default. It shouldn’t be that way.

How should we respond when crisis happens or we feel like our needs (not our wants) are being overlooked? First of all, don’t assume it’s intentional. The Apostles didn’t intentionally overlook the Hellenistic Jewish widows, and don’t assume that leadership in your church is intentionally overlooking or ignoring the needs of folks within the body. Doesn’t mean that they can respond to every want, but I’m sure they do their best to cover the needs that they are aware of.

Second, be part of the solution. Select from among yourselves seven…not just any seven, but seven who were spiritually mature and had the skill set to help. Maybe you are the person to step in and help. Maybe you know the person who should. But instead of being a grumbler…instead of throwing rocks…do something to help out. How can you be a part of the solution?

Third, keep the main thing the main thing. We have a real enemy who doesn’t want to see us succeed…as individuals or as a body of believers. As Mike Harris often says, “He’s not going to give us a free pass.” He prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Unfortunately in our successes we often sow the seeds of defeat. We let our guard down. The busyness of life that success often brings crowds out our devotional time with the Lord. Instead of focusing on time in the Word and time in prayer, we have too much to do. And that’s when the lion pounces.

Finally, celebrate the win. Often times we can move from task to task and not celebrate and thank God for the victories and wins He has given us. And what is the win?  Transforming families to live and love like Jesus. When we come together to solve problems and meet needs we reflect the unity that Jesus calls us to. And we show love in the process. There is plenty of hatred in the world…plenty of prejudice and divisiveness…plenty of me-ism. Let’s not let it affect our church.

Until next time…let’s pray.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

Life Together

Acts 2.42-47

What do you do with 3,000 new believers? These new believers were committing themselves to learning more about Jesus, praying, worshiping, and enjoying a vibrant community life. They were also committed to proclaiming Jesus as the Messiah to others, and God was powerfully at work through their testimony. Every day more people were joining their new family.

Following Jesus is simple, not easy. The apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, prayer and evangelism…practices that kept the early church on mission. Practices we’ve incorporated into our values as a church…renewing hearts and minds through biblical teaching, intentionally building Christ-centered relationships, inspiring a fervent love for Jesus through a lifestyle of worship, and strategically creating opportunities for families to impact their world for Jesus. Practices that keep us on mission as a church…believe it or not they’re on my wall so that whenever our staff or elders meet, we’re reminded of our values. Practices that I hope you have woven into your spiritual life as well.

Like this early group of new disciples, we too are called to be a vibrant community, a family, here at Central. Jesus said the world would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another. So I wonder what folks would say about us? Would they see that our faith is making a difference in our lives? Would the quality of our life together and the positive impact that we are having on the valley cause us to have favor with all the people?

A couple of practical steps you can take. Make daily time in God’s Word and prayer a part of your spiritual disciplines.

Be generous in your giving. When you see a need, meet a need. You don’t need permission. Look for opportunities…excuses to give.

If you are not a part of a community group yet, remember that’s our primary vehicle for growing. Find a group of friends to gather with on a regular basis…pray, study the Word, dig into each others’ lives, challenge and encourage each other.

Don’t forget your impact list…who is that one person you are praying for?

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster

The Coming of the Spirit

Acts 2.1-13

In a mighty rush of wind and fire, the Spirit descends on the Apostles and empowers them for their mission…to be witnesses.

Being a capital A Apostle is a big deal. We are here today because of their witness. We believe what we believe today because of their witness. It’s their witness that gives Jesus’ death and resurrection context…that helps us understand the cosmic implications of the ancient story. It’s their witness on which the church is founded and built by the Spirit. Their witness. The Word.

And while it’s a big deal to be a capital A Apostle, it’s also a big deal to carry on the mission to be witnesses to the ends of the earth…to be little a apostles. It’s the mission we are called to carry out today, and each of us has been equipped and empowered to do it. Each of us has a story to tell of how Jesus rescued us and brought us from death to life. Being a witness means telling your story…apologetics and evangelism techniques can be helpful tools…but they are not as powerful and will not have as great an impact as your story.

So what is your story? How has Jesus impacted your life? Let me challenge you this week to spend some time thinking about your story, and then to share it with a friend or family member, a co-worker or classmate, with someone who needs to hear about the hope that you have found in Jesus.

Until next time…stay salty.

This post is based on a sermon from our Acts series. Download the podcast at: Central Christian Church Main Service, or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter: @ccclancaster